Don’t be fooled by hospital ads

We are bombarded with advertisements from hospitals such as “Come to our hospital, we’re the best”, or “come to our hospital, you won’t get better care anywhere.” Those types of ads are usually called puffery. However, there is one type of hospital ad that is highly deceptive.

Hospitals constantly tout the quality of their doctors, that they are unequaled and highly competent. The average person reading those ads is led to believe that the hospitals vetted the doctors, doing some type of due diligence to confirm that the doctor is, in fact, superior. The average person is also led to believe that the hospital stands behind those doctors if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, the average person beliefs are wrong.

For a doctor to be able to perform services in a hospital, the doctor must have privileges. They submit applications that summarize their education, training and experience. They will get privileges if the hospital finds them to be qualified. However, having privileges is not equivalent to being a great or superior doctor. Thus, the fact that the hospital is touting “their doctors”, it is still buyer beware. You can’t assume that the doctor is good just because he provides services at a hospital that advertises.

Even more concerning is that the advertisements somehow imply that the hospitals are responsible if one of “their doctors” commits medical negligence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The law in Georgia is that hospitals are responsible for the actions of their employees, but are not responsible for the actions of independent contractors who work at the hospital. So if a doctor is negligent and injures a patient, both the doctor and the doctor’s employer bear responsibility. What makes a doctor an employee rather than an independent contractor? The Internal Revenue Service has detailed rules for making that determination, at least for tax purposes. But under Georgia law, there is a simple basic test: If the doctor gets a paycheck from the hospital, s/he is an employee. If the paycheck comes from anywhere else, the doctor is not an employee.

Most of us would think that when we walk into an emergency room that the doctors who work there work for the hospital. In fact, the ER doctors are usually employed by a company which in turn has a contract to supply the hospitals with an adequate number of doctors. If something goes wrong, it is the ER company, and not the hospital which is liable for the injury, and not the hospital.

Hospitals further try to protect themselves by putting signs in the ER that the doctors are independent contractors, and they may also put some type of disclaimer in the forms that the patient fills out and signs upon arrival in the ER. How many people coming to the ER when they are sick or injured focus on those signs and disclaimers? Lawyers – – maybe. Everyone else – – unlikely. Even if a patient understands the significance of those signs and documents, the reality is that patients really have no choice other than get up and try another hospital emergency room.

The bottom line is that hospital ads are just like all other advertisements: they are trying to sell a product. Don’t rely on them. Go to a well-respected hospital, assuming there is one near you. Hope you get a good emergency room doctor, and do your homework to choose your doctor, even if you end up in the hospital.